SWI: The Story of “Remember”

As part of our study of the poem “Remember” by Jo Harjo , we used a Structured Word Inquiry (Bowers, 2010) approach to study the word <remember> using 3 of the 4 questions:
1. What is the meaning?
2. What are the morphological and etymological relatives?
3. How is the word built?
The students were quickly able to locate, using Etymology Online or our Dictionary of Word Origins by John Ayto that the deepest root of the word <remember> was the Latin memor which means “mindful of.” They also were able to quickly brainstorm words that were morphological (sharing the same base and the same meaning) relatives to <remember>: <remembers> <remembering> <remembered>.

There was a good deal of discussion about what the base element is in <remember>: <member> or <memb>. I was stumped myself but created matrices with both since students were able to provide evidence of the <er> suffix. On further reflection, my best understanding at the moment is that <member> is the base. (Email me if you would like me to post my thought process as I thought it might be too long-winded to include here.) I could not find evidence of a suffix –abilia so I opted to leave <memorabilia> off of the <memor> matrix. Please contact me if you have evidence of an –abilia suffix. In our class, we have to locate other base words with the same suffix to show evidence that the suffix exists.

That brings me to a crucial characteristic of Structure Word Inquiry: it is a scientific inquiry so a hypothesis is carefully explored, considered and supported by our current understandings. Hence, I can be in a classroom with my students and not be sure of something, like I wasn’t sure of the base of <remember>. We can disagree about whether the base is <member> or <memb> but we do so respectfully by explaining how we support our beliefs with evidence and listening to the differing views of others as they support their views with their own evidence. This may be one of the great legacies of any inquiry approach; the thinking dispositions that students will take with them long after they have closed the classroom door.

Students volunteered that <remembers> <remembered> and <remembering> were in the same morphological family and wondered about the word <memory>. They smiled when, after exploring the first 3 of the 4 SWI questions for <memory>, they recognized the meaningful connection between <memory> and <remember>: these words don’t share a base but share the same etymological root (memor- mindful of) as do <memoir> and <remembrance>.

We put a circle around the <memor> , <member> (or <memb, depending on the class) matrix and other words, volunteered by students, like <memoir> or <remembrance>. The circle shows that the words within the circle share the same etymological root (memor) and meaning. The words within each matrix share the same root, meaning and structure of the base.

Outside the circle, we put words that came up in our discussion or inquiry but do not share the root. For example, the root of <memento> is the Latin memento so that word appears outside the circle.

My next post will focus on how I support vocabulary development with Structured Word Inquiry. Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 12.29.42 PM


I'm a Literacy Specialist with over twenty years of classroom, staff development and family event experiences.

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